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How Much Should You Pay Guest Speakers and Musicians?

This is a tricky but important question. So here is a guide for Christian churches and organisations.

The average Australian would need to work for more than 5 years (after tax) to pay the speaking fee for a one-hour lecture by Bill Clinton. His average speaking fee in 2012 was $226,000! But this is nothing compared with his wife who requested a $275,000 speaker fee at the University of Missouri (they turned it down). If you really want a Clinton to speak at your event, your best option is Chelsea who speaks for the relatively affordable price of just $65,000!  

You are unlikely to invite a Clinton to speak at your next event, but guest speakers and musicians are a common feature at many events hosted by churches and Christian organisations. So how much (if anything) should you pay them?  I recently shared 10 Tips for Serving Guest Speakers, and this article is Part 2 of this series.


To begin with, I’m going to make a few assumptions that are the foundation of what gets said next:

  1. You (the event organiser) and they (the guest speaker/musician) love the Lord and desire to serve Him.
  3. They (like you) are not serving out of a desire to “get rich.”
  5. They may be serving at your event in addition to their regular paid employment, or they may rely on events such as this to “put food on the table”.
  7. They will serve at this event at cost (both financial and time) to themselves and also their families and other responsibilities.
  9. You want to honour them and acknowledge their valuable contribution.
  11. You most likely are unable to remunerate them in accordance with the hours involved in preparing, travelling and being in attendance at your event.

Biblical Principles for Paying Workers

So what does the Bible have to say?

The worker deserves his or her wages

The Bible makes it clear that it is right for those who preach the gospel to receive a living from this ministry. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:11-14 (12b omitted - see below):

“If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more?…Don’t you know that those who serve in the temple get their food from the temple, and that those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.”

Similarly, it’s not unreasonable for a worker to receive material benefits for their efforts:

“For Scripture says, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.”” 1 Timothy 5:18

If you do the work, you should get paid for it - it's a command.

The worker can waive his or her wages

The Bible is also clear that the worker can waive their rightful compensation. As Paul says of his ministry:

“But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 9:12b

It is the worker’s right to get paid. It also also the worker’s option (but not obligation) to waive payment if they so desire. This is a good reminder for those who make a living from gospel ministry. As Les Bridgeman writes:

"While we’re not required to follow Paul’s career path, it stands as a challenge of sacrificial service and full engagement with the world. Paul’s ministry reminds us of something that we’ve all learned by experience: There’s great joy and freedom in serving voluntarily."

Do what is right and just

The Bible condemns the exploitation of the poor by the rich, and of those who are vulnerable by those in power. While the speaker/host dynamic is usually not this stark, it is possible for a guest to be taken advantage of. To not give someone what they deserve is unjust.

"Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty." James 5:4

We must do what is right.

Be generous

Generosity is pleasing to God. It is a reflection of the character of God, and is an inclination of the heart that the Lord honours and blesses:

“A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” Proverbs 11:25

Generosity (not stinginess) should be the default position of the Christian. We are givers - not takers, because God is a giver and first gave to us.  You want your guest to receive the honorarium and think: “Wow, that’s generous!” not “Wow, is that what they think this is worth?!”.

Questions to Ask Before You Pay Guest Speakers

These are some Biblical principles that should guide our thinking. But there are many different scenarios and each requires wisdom. So I'd like to suggest 6 questions to consider:

Is this how they put food on the table?

If this speaking or music ministry is the means by which they eat dinner each night - don’t make them go hungry! And if you’re not sure, don’t make assumptions - ask them. This is non-negotiable. As we discovered before:

"...the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel."

As one friend reminded me: time spent serving at your event is time not spent raising funds (speaking, writing, playing music) to put food on the table. You are providing their basic salary, so it is important that you support them in this way.  If you are not providing their basic salary, this doesn't mean you don't pay them anything - it just means that they won't go hungry if you don't pay them.

How many hours will they spend preparing and attending?

It is important to consider the effort involved. This includes:

  • The time involved to develop the skills that make them suitable for you to invite them.
  • The time involved in preparing to serve.
  • The time involved in travelling to serve.
  • The time involved in serving.

It’s a helpful suggestion from Bronwyn who said: “Write that time down and prayerfully consider its value.”  This is also a question about value. John Stackhouse cuts to the chase:

"Let us ask ourselves, before God, how we can justify paying a guest preacher a mere hundred bucks. He has to accept the invitation and get clear on his various duties from the person who invites him. He has to prepare the sermon—again, even if he is going to preach one he has preached before, he still has to decide upon which one to preach and then prepare to preach it well on this occasion. He has to travel to our church and take his place with the other worship leaders. He has to preach the sermon, and greet people afterwards. Then he has to drive home.  Time it out, and it’s likely ten hours or more that he has invested in our church. We offer him a hundred dollars, and that works out to ten bucks an hour—a little more than minimum wage. He has to pay all of the taxes on that, so now he’s taking home between fifty and sixty dollars. Is that what we think our preachers are worth?"

Would you feel loved or used if you received this amount?

The greatest command is “Love your neighbour as yourself”. So how would you feel if you received this amount in return for your labour?  You might respond: “I never get paid much for what I do.” But that isn’t the question, is it? How you have been treated by others should not be the model for how you treat others. Jesus doesn’t say “Do to others as they do to you.” No, Jesus is pushing is to do what would be best for us - for others.  So if you received this honorarium, how would you feel? Appreciated and loved, or used and taken advantage of?  John Stackhouse shares a sad story about a friend:

"One weekend, he left his family to speak at a retreat for more than 100 young people, each of whom paid to go away to a well-furnished camp for three days. My friend gave four talks and participated in a question-and-answer session—a typical, and demanding, schedule. But his work didn’t end there, of course. Retreat speakers are “on call” all weekend: for impromptu counseling, offering advice over mealtimes, and modeling what they preach on the volleyball court or around the campfire. Make no mistake: There is very little relaxing in that role, however restful the retreat might be for everyone else.  So at the end of this tiring weekend, at the close of the Sunday luncheon, the leader of the group thanked him profusely at the front of the dining hall (he had gone over very well). Then he tossed the speaker a T-shirt emblazoned with the group’s logo while everyone clapped. It took my friend several minutes to realize that this shirt was his total payment for the weekend’s work. He got in his car, without even a check for gasoline, and headed back to his waiting family."

What would people pay for other goods and services?

John Stackhouse shared the following feedback from a speaker - a reflection that would be common:

“I’m not in this line of work for the money, but for the ministry. All I want is not to be insulted by the people I’m serving by them paying me less than they pay their kids’ piano teachers or their own hair stylists.”

Again, what we are willing to pay is often a good indication of what we actually value. The average Australian spends $75 on their fitness (gym memberships, personal trainers, etc). but many Christians baulk at an event that costs more than $25.

If your impulse is not to pay them, why?

This question is about your heart.  What is the reason why you don't want to give them an honorarium? Perhaps the reasons are good. Perhaps they are not. You might not want to pay them because you think they might be wrongly motivated by financial gain. If this is your concern, you shouldn’t approach them in the first place as their character disqualifies them.  You might not want to pay them because you never get paid for these types of events. Or because you're jealous about the skills they have. Or because you don't want them to get proud. Or because you think they have enough money already.  If this is the case, repent.

If you don’t have enough money to pay them, why not?

It is true that not everyone who issues an invitation is able to pay an honorarium. A friend of mine travels each year to teach the Bible to pastors in Central Asia. He doesn’t demand a financial contribution - they couldn’t pay him anything anyway! But he uses the financial contributions he receives from his other speaking engagements during the year in Australia to cover the costs of serving these pastors.  Yet most people reading this today won't be in this situation. Most of the time a lack of money to pay an honorarium is the result of not including this in the budget - unintentionally or otherwise.  And before you say "we couldn't afford to give an honorarium, we're in a poor area", it's worth remembering that there isn't necessarily a connection between generosity and material wealth. As the Apostle Paul wrote about the Macedonian Christians in 2 Corinthians 8:2-4:

"In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people."

Having more money doesn't make you give more of it away. As one survey noted:

“Earning higher incomes does not make American Christians more generous with their money. It actually appears to make them more stingy, protective, and distrustful.”

And as the Atlantic reported:

“The wealthiest Americans donate 1.3 percent of their income; the poorest, 3.2 percent.”

Tips When Paying Guest Speakers

That provides some food for thought when it comes to approaching the topic of money. But let's get more practical - as I've spoken with various people who serve as guest speakers and musicians, they have made some helpful suggestions.

Be up front about payment

Your guest should not have to ask the question “So, how much am I getting paid.” That’s embarrassing for them to ask (and for you to hear). If you can’t (or won’t) pay, make this clear when you issue the invitation.

Cover all out of pocket expenses

At the very least, the speaker or musician should not be left out of pocket for their involvement at your event. There are a number of factors to take into consideration here, and Tara Barthel gives an important example:

“My childcare costs of approximately $50/day for the days Fred cannot care for Sophia and Ella and we have to pay for childcare, etc.), and provides me with a most welcome honorarium.”

There are many other out of pocket expenses including petrol, tolls, parking, etc.

Keep it in the budget

Make sure that the honorarium isn't added in once all other expenses are covered. It needs to be in there from the beginning. Bronwyn Lea writes:

“If you’re on a shoestring budget (which, in truth, is most of us), don’t just nix the speaker fees. Keep it a line item, commensurate with money you are spending on other things like decor and food. No matter how big or little your budget is, let it reflect that you value good teaching at least as much as you value the place looking pretty.”

My friend John said:

"If they were an itinerant/missionary/faith ministry not on a salary from a church and thus more dependent on church’s generosity we gave them the top level honorarium. I think this is essential if we expect itinerant ministers to stay ‘on the road’. If they a pastor in a church on a salary we would give them the base level which was 20-30% less the top level."

And Glen explains his approach:

"When I host retreats or other special events, I typically budget $1 per attendee per session rounded up to the nearest logical increment. Say if I had someone speaking 4 times in one weekend to a group of 200 attendees my formula would lead me to give an honorarium of $800 in addition to their transportation. If my budget permitted, I would likely round up to $1,000."

Whatever the amount, make sure it's not forgotten when you set the budget.  Here are a few people offering suggestions for how to set a dollar amount to pay guest speakers:

Guiding Principle

I've realised that the way approach this topic reveals a lot about my heart. Setting an amount is more about my sanctification than the guest speaker's remuneration!  And so in future I will consider these questions when considering how much to pay guest speakers and musicians:

  1. What's going on in my heart?
  3. Am I loving my neighbour?
  5. Am I being generous?